LOUISVILLE, KY – The sixth inning started rather innocently for Louisville. It had a runner on first with one out, but by the end of the inning, five runs had crossed the plate on the way to a comeback 7-2 win to avoid a Wake Forest sweep.
“We had the game right where we wanted it,” head coach Tom Walter said after the game. “Any time you win a series on the road in this league, you’re happy. But [I’m] certainly disappointed with how we played from the sixth inning on today.”
Starting pitcher Josh Hartle coasted through the Cardinals lineup for five innings, retiring the first 10 batters he faced. Despite a hit apiece in the fourth and fifth innings, Louisville was scoreless, and the Deacs looked well on their way to their third win of the weekend.
“It was really good,” Walter said of Hartle’s performance early on. “He was on cruise control.”
And they were going to do it without their best hitting. Yes, Rake Forest remained alive with a home run — Bennett Lee rocked a solo shot to center to double the lead to 2-0 after Pierce Bennett opened the scoring in the first.
But, the Demon Deacons situational hitting was a struggle throughout the day. With one out in the fifth inning, Wake Forest had the bases loaded. They didn’t score a single run — Bennett flied out and Justin Johnson grounded out.
Then, in the seventh, Johnson struck out with runners on the corners to end an attempted response to Louisville’s five-run barrage.
In all, Wake Forest finished the game hitting 2-16 with runners on base and 1-11 with runners in scoring position. With two outs, the Deacs were 2-11.
“Early in the game, we had chances,” Walter said. “We had 11 of our first 22 hitters on base and just couldn’t get the big hit. [It’s] very frustrating for sure. Give credit to their pitching. Liggett is undefeated on the year for a reason.”
With one out in the sixth, Christian Knapczyk knocked a liner in the direction of Marek Houston. If it was snagged, it could’ve been a double play to end the inning. It wasn’t.
“I feel like that’s a play Marek makes most of the time,” Walter said.
On the very next at-bat, Louisville leaped into the lead — JT Benson took Hartle deep to left for a three-run blast. Hartle then loaded the bases on a walk, single and infield error.
That would be all for the sophomore, who ended the day with five hits and five runs — four earned — in 5.1 innings.
Reliever Cole Roland promptly hit the first two batters he faced, plating runs four and five for the Cardinals, but then settled in to record the final two outs.
“We had seven free passes in that five-run inning,” Walter said. “The free 90s hurt us for sure.”
Once the door opened for Louisville in the sixth, though, it never closed. Two runs scored in the seventh, and it could’ve been more, if not for an odd double play to end the inning.
In its final two turns at the plate, Wake Forest couldn’t build a rally, only securing one hit.
What could’ve been a third win to end the weekend with a resounding sweep was not so. But, Wake Forest had still done something it had never done before — win a series at Louisville.
“First and foremost, [we] got a series win on the road against a good club,” Walter said. “Takeaway number one is it’s a good weekend for us.”
“The hard part about our sport is you lose the first two games [and] win on Sunday, you’re on the bus ride happy,” Walter added. “You win the first two games and you lose on Sunday, you’re miserable on the bus ride.”
Now, the Deacs will turn their attention to a midweek matchup with Liberty. And this coming weekend, they will hit the road once again to Pittsburgh, who is fresh off a series win against No. 7 Virginia. Loss or not, the path to an ACC Atlantic crown moves forward.